MANILA -- A Department of Health (DOH) official has reiterated that health services should be made available even without deposit to patients seeking emergency treatment in both public and private hospitals.

“Government hospitals do not require deposits from patients. Private hospitals on the other hand (should) treat patients, then refer them to government hospitals, if necessary," Assistant Secretary Elmer Punzalan said in an interview with the media during the 16th Annual Hospital Management Asia (HMA) conference being hosted by the Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines Inc. (PHAPI).

Punzalan noted that while the department respects some opposition to Republic Act No. 10932, or the Anti-Hospital Deposit Law, there is a proper venue for it.

Signed by President Rodrigo Duterte last Aug. 3, RA 10932 makes it unlawful for any hospital or medical clinic to “request, solicit, demand or accept any deposit or any other form of advance payment as prerequisite for administering basic emergency care, for confinement or medical treatment, or to refuse to administer medical treatment and support to any patient”.

The law has been hailed by those seeking to make health care accessible to every Filipino, but has been slammed by a number of private hospitals.

During the event, PHAPI president Dr. Rustico Jimenez argued that the law could be abused and lead small private hospitals to bankruptcy.

He alleged that legislators did not consider the private hospitals’ opinion when the law was being deliberated in Congress.

“The provisions of the new law are too oppressive for private hospitals," Jimenez said, noting that although the law’s implementing rules and regulations (IRR) have yet to be released, there are already people who cite the Act and issue promissory notes instead of making a deposit.

"What will happen if we strictly implement this law? After three strikes, it is possible that a hospital will be closed by the Department of Health,” Jimenez said, pointing out that closing small hospitals will only make access to health services even more difficult.

He also called for leniency because some small hospitals could not cater to all kinds of ailments, owing to their limited facilities.

Jimenez further said that while the law requires private hospitals to provide services without asking for deposit, it is not clear on what assistance compliant private hospitals could get to help them sustain their operations.

This means that while attending to emergency cases, these hospitals would use up their stocks of medicine and medical supplies but would not be able to replenish them right away, and that their medical staff – anesthesiologists, specialists, nurses and others -- would be rendering services without guarantee that they will be paid, he explained.

In a previous interview, Jimenez said the possible scenario would be that Emergency Room doctors in private hospitals would stabilize the patient and later ask the relatives to transfer him to a government hospital, which could possibly endanger his life.

He recalled that during the Senate hearings on the bill that they had attended, the author of the law, Senator Risa Hontiveros, said that the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) will reimburse the promissory notes and that private hospitals could even get tax adjustments from the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR).

However, Jimenez said they were informed by the BIR that no law requires the bureau to give private hospitals tax adjustments and that based on their experience, PhilHealth has been slow in reimbursing hospitals and only subsidizes in-patients.

The association, he said, will seek a temporary restraining order against the law.

Jimenez said that PHAPI wants to ensure that the law does not side with patients alone but that it would also look after the welfare and sustainability of its member hospitals.

The law was crafted to make sure that private hospitals do not turn down patients who could not afford to give deposits during emergency cases, and fulfill their duty to save lives first.

The two-day 16th annual HMA conference, which began Wednesday at the Shangri-La at the Fort in Bonifacio Global City, gathers health care leaders and hospital representatives from 30 countries across the globe, so they could discuss the future direction of health care in the Philippines and the Asia-Pacific region. (PNA)